Saturday, November 15th, 2008
10:03 pm - Books...  
So far behind. Three books with similar settings, i.e., all the trappings of modern space opera: utopian universes full of enhanced humans, virtual reality, AIs, and big, dumb objects.

Lady of Mazes — Karl Schroeder

This took a few chapters for me to get into, but once in I enjoyed it quite a bit. Schroeder is a regular at Boskone, and being a tech geek he tends to show up as a very enthusiastic participant on a lot of the panels I'm interested in. He's a big ideas kind of guy, and he has lots of them on display here.

It's way into the future, and the entire solar system has been extensively colonized, with habitats of all sorts spread out across the system. One of them, a smallish coronal (ringworld) out beyond Jupiter, is essentially a giant virtual reality chamber, with a plethora of independent realities, called manifolds, running concurrently and congruently. When the coronal is invaded by forces unknown that turn off the manifolds, a young woman named Livia and two friends escape the coronal to seek help and answers elsewhere. What they find is part Alice in Wonderland with a bit of The Wizard of Oz thrown in. They discover that most of the rest of the system is one giant, infinitely pliable manifold called the Archipelago.

In addition to human inhabitants, there are also many AIs wandering around the Archipelago. The AIs manifest much like the gods do on Pratchett's Discworld. When enough members of the Archipelago express a common interest or belief, an AI representation of that interest (called a Vote) comes into being. There is also an AI representation of the Votes, which is naturally enough called the Government.

There's a lot of neat stuff here on the nature of reality, and Schroeder has a lot of fun with it, without going too far off the deep end with the cute. Unfortunately, the ending is rushed, and is also what a kind reviewer might call open to interpretation. Still, I liked the book a lot.

Consider Phlebas — Iain M. Banks

On the other hand, I didn't like this book much at all. It's starts with one of the grossest scenes it has ever been my displeasure to read. I actually set the book aside. I only picked it up later because I'd forgotten to bring another book with me to lunch one day, and this one was in the truck so I could bring it back to the library. I managed to get through the first chapter, and then the book became pretty much a standard adventure in the Indiana Jones mold, if, you know, Indy was an amoral shapeshifter on a secret mission. It began to hold my interest. Then about halfway through the book, there was an incredibly gruesome situation that had nothing to do with either plot or character. It was just gratuitous. I kept on reading, but it was only for the sake of completion. I shouldn't have bothered. As the end neared, Banks spends about eight chapters telegraphing the novel's climax, then everybody dies. I should've stuck with my first instinct.

The Prefect — Alastair Reynolds

I read Reynolds Revelation Space awhile back, and wasn't particularly impressed. This one is set in the same universe and sounded promising, so I thought I give him another try. Tom Dreyfus is the titular character, a member of the police force of the Glitter Band, a huge swarm of habitats of various shapes and sizes that orbits the planet Yellowstone that are all connected by a virtual reality net. When one of those habitats is destroyed, Dreyfus is called upon to investigate.

This starts out as a mystery, then turns to a procedural early on when the identity of the villains is revealed to the reader. Later it becomes more of a technothriller as Dreyfus has to deal with a pair of rogue AIs threatening the entire Band. It ends with a bit more of a whimper than a bang, so that was a little dissatisfying, but overall I enjoyed it.